America at War

This course examines United States involvement in wars throughout this century, and the economic links to war in the U.S. Why does the U.S. get involved in wars with other countries? How do these wars impact the people of the United States? How do these wars impact the people in other parts of the world? Does our country gain or lose more money through war? Does the military provide necessary jobs? Could we find these jobs some other way? Is the United States too dependent or entrenched in a military lifestyle and mindset? These are just some of the questions that we will answer as we study the Spanish-American-Cuban War, World War II, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts. By focusing on past conflicts, we hope to gain a greater understanding of the United States military, economy, and role in the world today. Throughout the class, students will be challenged to consider different viewpoints on historical events, so they can refine their critical thinking abilities. Students will also be working towards presenting a PBAT (performance based assessment task) at the end of the semester.

Class Outline

With each U.S. war that we study, we will focus on certain questions. We will have a Socratic seminar every Thursday in which you will come well-prepared to answer one of these questions, and then a written response on Friday expressing your opinion and analysis of that question. This weekly process will help you build towards writing your PBAT in May and June. We will also be combining our study of the past conflicts of the U.S. with a study of economic concepts.

Spanish-American-Cuban War: Does the United States have a manifest destiny? Should the United States expand? Why or why not? Should the United States annex the Philippines? What is the role of the United States in the world? How should the U.S. spend our tax dollars?

World War II: Why did the Japanese bomb the Pearl Harbor? Should the United States have dropped the atomic bomb? How were people’s lives impacted by World War II? What role does propaganda play in war? Is war good for the economy, nationally and individually? Does war improve people’s life opportunities?

Cold War: What is a “cold war”?

Vietnam Conflict: Why was the United States involved in Vietnam? Are there any limits to war? What is communism, and is it a threat to the United States? Which economic system, capitalism, communism, or socialism, do you prefer?

The course is built around various and appropriate primary and secondary sources for each war and topic.
Media Used: 
Significant Assignments: 

Notebooks: Students keep a notebook on the readings and their responses to the readings. Each week, we will analyze one source together as a class. Students are then responsible for analyzing additional sources on their own. The notebook will be the place that they will keep your sources and their analysis of them.

On Friday of each week, students write in class essays. After teaching MEAT, students will become accustomed to writing solid responses to the Socratic Seminar questions. In addition, at the end of each “unit” (or war), they will write a 2-3 page essay synthesizing their understanding of why the United States got involved in that particular war. Each of these shorter essays will be revised at least once – based upon feedback from peers and/or teacher. All of this will help prepare us for the deep analytical writing needed for the PBAT.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Socratic Seminars will give you the chance to talk about your interpretations and questions about the weekly question and the primary and secondary sources. This is the space to discuss our guiding question for the week. The Socratic seminars will allow students to hear different perspectives on that question.


For each weekly question, students will do some additional research on their own into the topic. This will be presented and shared during the weekly Socratic seminar. In addition, their final PBAT will require some additional research, which will be guided based upon their thesis. Their PBAT is a synthesis of the wars studied and discussed as a class. Their thesis will dictate their comparative lens for those wars.

Sample PBATs: 
“America: It’s nothing personal, it’s just business”
“Why does America go to war?”